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John Buchan on An­gling

Keith Har­wood (The Med­lar Press, £25)

When he died in 1940, as Gov­er­nor-gen­eral of Canada, John Buchan (Baron Tweedsmuir) was just 64, but was dis­tin­guished as a clas­si­cal scholar, lawyer, politi­cian and novelist who had pub­lished more than 100 books. his was a pre­co­cious tal­ent—he was listed in Who’s Who when still an Ox­ford un­der­grad­u­ate—and, as Keith har­man demon­strates in this dili­gent and in­trigu­ing vol­ume, much of Buchan’s writ­ing was shaped by his boy­hood among the streams of the Scot­tish Bor­ders.

his pas­sion for an­gling was prac­ti­cally life­long. A son of the manse, he in­dulged in worm­ing and gud­dling for trout and even tried ‘burn­ing the wa­ter’, which he claimed later won him the po­lit­i­cal sup­port of the Peebles poach­ing fra­ter­nity. he had an en­gag­ing fond­ness for re­mote places, from the Faroes to the Cana­dian moun­tains, and cer­tainly had his pri­or­i­ties right, as he once in­ter­rupted a royal visit to sneak off and try the Cas­capé­dia River.

Mr har­wood has ju­di­ciously cho­sen ex­tracts from Buchan’s pro­lific an­gling jour­nal­ism, which is evoca­tive and mag­is­te­rial, rang­ing from an early eu­logy on still wa­ters to a lively ver­sion of Bishop Browne’s lost Tay salmon (‘as large as a well-grown boy’). Fish­ing fea­tured in his fic­tion, too, from The Thirty-nine Steps to John Mac­nab, although one re­gret is that he never wrote more than two chap­ters—reprinted here—of Pil­grim’s Rest, his pro­jected pis­ca­to­rial opus mag­num, a loss to the lit­er­a­ture rank­ing along­side Arthur Ran­some’s un­com­pleted vol­ume The River Comes First.

Buchan was, in his own words, a ‘nymp­holept’ (‘one who was un­der the spell of run­ning wa­ter’) and his flu­ency is in­fec­tious, bear­ing us from the Win­drush to Tweed­side, with a lively eye for nat­u­ral detail. he liked to say that, for him, fish­ing was not a pas­time, but a way of life. Amen to that. David Profumo

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